Let’s just say it: At times, the impeachment hearings have been straight-up weird – strange enough that Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., had to officially issue a denial to BuzzFeed that he audibly passed gas during a live CNN interview. These sure ain’t your grandma’s Nixon hearings.
Yet the mention of rapper A$AP Rocky during U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s opening statement on Wednesday still managed to elicit ripples of bemusement from some viewers. Sondland said that his July 26 call with President Donald Trump, which was overheard by a U.S. Embassy official, was “primarily about A$AP Rocky.” The rapper’s name quickly began trending on Twitter.
“Thanks God I had A$AP Rocky on my impeachment hearing bingo card today,” tweeted Vulture TV critic Jen Chaney. “Didn’t see a reference to ASAP Rocky coming, tbh,” wrote Parker Malloy, the editor at large for Media Matters for America. Comedian and rapper Lil Duval, meanwhile, tweeted seven laugh-crying emoji and concluded that “hip hop has come a long way.”
Yes, it’s certainly unexpected to hear the name of the man responsible for the song “L$D” mentioned during the hearings, but how does he tie into this whole mess in the first place?
The link between A$AP Rocky and Trump began this summer, when the rapper was arrested after a June altercation in Stockholm and detained in a Swedish jail for nearly three weeks before being charged with assault. Several Democratic congressmen demanded the release of the rapper.
Trump jumped on the bandwagon, personally calling out Swedish leadership. “Very disappointed in Prime Minister Stefan Löfven for being unable to act,” he tweeted. “Sweden has let our African American Community down in the United States. I watched the tapes of A$AP Rocky, and he was being followed and harassed by troublemakers. Treat Americans fairly! #FreeRocky.” He later added, “Give A$AP Rocky his FREEDOM. We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around. Sweden should focus on its real crime problem! #FreeRocky.”
The president also worked behind the scenes with Swedish and American officials in an attempt to secure the artist’s release, which brings us back to the impeachment hearings.
David Holmes, an official from the United States Embassy in Kyiv, testified last week that he overheard a July call between Trump and Sondland, during which the two discussed A$AP Rocky’s ongoing custody. Holmes testified that he overheard Sondland advise Trump to “let him get sentenced, play the racism card, give him a ticker-tape when he comes home.”
This was the same call during which, according to Holmes, Sondland told Trump that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “‘loves your ass,'” and would do “anything you ask him to.” But, as The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey reported, Holmes suggested Trump’s primary interest during the call was discussing the potential release of A$AP Rocky from Swedish jail.
In the written version of his opening statement, Sondland wrote of the call, “We discussed A$AP Rocky.” But during his testimony on Wednesday, Sondland amended the statement to say “I think we primarily discussed A$AP Rocky.”
Trump originally got involved with the A$AP Rocky case on the urging of Darrell Scott, an Ohio pastor and one of Trump’s most prominent African American supporters; Kareem Lanier, co-chairman of the Urban Revitalization Coalition; and Kim Kardashian West, who reportedly “urged to advocate for Rocky by her husband, Kanye West,” according to Yahoo News. Many have suggested the reason the president was persistent about the situation was to combat the accusations of racism, which stemmed from his insulting tweets against four congresswomen of color dubbed “the Squad.”
If this call about Rocky ends up being materially important, there’s a certain irony to the situation. As Post reporter David Nakamura tweeted: “Trump got involved in A$AP Rocky’s case to try to mitigate political damage from his racist ‘squad’ tweets and now the July 26 call with Sondland nominally about Rocky is implicating Trump deeper in impeachment scandal.”